NFL players who took a knee during the national anthem have been widely criticized by the American public and administration as being unpatriotic, ungrateful and simply un-American. The narrative of the protests has become about patriotism, instead of addressing what the protests are really about– the systemic issues of police brutality and racial injustice. So, People of Color are faced with the question: if not peacefully and silently kneeling, what is the right way to protest injustice?
“No disrespect to the military, no disrespect to the flag, but our brothers and sisters are out here dying and being mistreated and are not getting fair justice– there’s no [equality] for these people,” says Ann Mark, treasurer of Wayne African Student Society at Wayne State.
“People have turned the protests [in]to being about the flag, the military or the national anthem. And it’s not,” Ann says. “It’s about police brutality and about the way minority citizens in America are being treated.”
NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the first to take a knee in 2016 to protest police violence following the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. His silent gesture resulted in severe backlash by Americans and the media and losing his job. His message, however, was lost in translation.
“I love America. I love people. That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help make America better,” said Colin Kaepernick in a New York Times article, who said his stance was reported out of context.
A year later, NFL players are continuing Kaepernick’s fight for justice and awareness, despite the criticism.
Ann says she believes the NFL players kneeling are utilizing their platform to speak out against racial injustice and police brutality, taking a stance for American citizens, and calling attention to an issue that needs to be addressed.
“For people who think [kneeling] is unpatriotic, just because their patriotism does not look like others, it doesn’t mean it’s unpatriotic.”
Jasmyne Brantley, president of Black Student Union at Wayne State explains how she feels the portrayal of white people who protest are generally positive, while black people who protest are treated as a threat.
She asks, “If Trump supporters are protected by their first amendment’s freedom of speech, no matter how offensive and despicable they have been, then why can’t a football player take a knee?”
“The moment a person of color decides to push back on all of the systematic oppressions thrown on them, they’re crucified and [viewed] as a threat to American society,” Jasmyne says. “Why should we hold our hands to our hearts, hold our heads up high, and honor the American flag that did not and still does not represent or honor the Black men and women who actually built this nation?”
Ann explains that our society’s racial injustice and inequality problem is “reflective of people’s reactions to the protests.”
“When injustices happen against People of Color, they oftentimes go unpunished. People don’t have as much sympathy when there’s a victim who’s a person of color,” says Ann.
Trump, like many others, have missed the point of why NFL players are protesting to begin with.
“Even the president, he’s attacking these [protestors] but he’s ignoring the actual issues and the reason why people are protesting in the first place.”
Ann says there have been many cases where white people protesting and rioting will be praised, while black people protesting in the same manner will receive criticism. This double standard is normalized and she says it stems from white “power” and privilege.”
“When the Neo-Nazis were rallying, they got called ‘very fine people’ by the president but somebody who was silently protesting, lost his job and wants justices for People of Color got called a SOB by the president,” she says.
“If you compare situations like that,” says Ann, “I would definitely think that if white people decided to take a knee, that they wouldn’t get as much flak as the black athletes.”